Working for Americans becomes deadly choice

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The Independent Online

Captain Abbas Sultan, lying in a hospital bed, was worried. He feared his leg had been smashed beyond repair. "How can I join the Iraqi army now, without a leg?" he protested. Don't worry, we reassured him, your leg is fine, it's only a small wound, it will heal.

Iraqis like Captain Sultan are the target now. That was clear yesterday, after the third suicide bombing in two days to target Iraqis who are working with the American forces. One, an attempt to kill the leaders of a local tribe that is cooperating with American soldiers in the restive city of Ramadi, failed, wounded three guards but not the intendedtargets.

But the other two were devastatingly effective. In Iskandariya on Tuesday, a suicide car bombing killed around 53 applicants to the Iraqi police as they queued at the local police station.

And yesterday, in a similar attack, around 46 recruits to the new Iraqi army were killed as they queued with their kitbags at a base in Baghdad, ready to set off for training camps.

The US is desperate to pull its troops out of harm's way in Iraq, and wants the Iraqi police and army to fill the breach. But the message from the suicide bombers yesterday was clear: any Iraqi who joins up is fair game.

In a recent joint communique, several Iraqi Sunni resistance groups warned Iraqis against "collaboration" with the American occupation. But if they are seen as collaborators by many in Iraq, those who join the police or the newly reconstituted army under the Americans are considered patriotic iraqis, not stooges, by many others.

There was no love for the Americans in evidence after either attack. In Iskandariya, the wounded were convinced that the explosion had been an American air strike, not a suicide car bombing.

And yesterday in Baghdad, one wounded man told reporters from his hospital bed: "I hate the Americans. "I hate them. They did nothing to protect us. They don't protect Muslims."

The Americans may consider the new recruits their allies in Iraq, but for most of those joining up their sole motivation is to get a job. Unemployment is catastrophically high under the American occupation of Iraq, and men with families to feed are desperate to find work. The one thing many people are qualified for, after years of frontline battlefield experience in Saddam's armies, is work in the security forces.

For men like Captain Sultan, a professional NCO in the old Iraqi army, there was the bonus of a lucrative promotion to captain with the Americans finding it hard to fill the roles of officers who were loyal to Saddam.

But for those behind the bombings, they may be collaborators. And beyond that, the strategy is clear. In order to turn Iraq into a hell for the Americans, they want to prevent Iraqis taking up security roles instead of the American soldiers who are being cut down by the day in resistance attacks.